Tuesday, July 05, 2011

8 Days that changed Eternity

We had an idea that God would show up, but not like this..

As the last trip to leave for National Community Church's year long (july to july) A1:8 initiative, our trip to Guatemala was the period on a sentence of trips that shaped people's hearts, changed people's minds, and opened people's eyes.
Together, with Jon Vaughn, I led a team of 35 down to one of the roughest and torn apart countries in our Western Hemisphere, Guatemala. Still suffering effects from a 30 year civil war, ended in 1996, Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. Gangs run rampant through the streets, third world poverty is everywhere, and many teens are left with no father, and few role models. It was for this very reason that Jon Jakubowski, a 28-year-old former collegiate athlete with a heart for missions, founded Champions in Action. CIA (as we will call it) uses premiere sports camps to bring the Gospel to the youth of Guatemala, in a desire to see the broken nation restored, and a new generation rise. NCC partnered with CIA for an 8 day mission trip, taking place from June 25 (also my wedding anniversary) to July 3.
I'm still on a spiritual high as I type this, and I can't recall a time in my life when I've felt this much passion about a cause. For the past few months, most of my concerts have featured CIA material at my merch table, next to t-shirts, and CDs, and I've had the chance to share the mission with many inquisitive minds, however it wasn't until we touched down in Guatemala, that I saw the real heart behind this amazing organization, and their impact on the youth.
Day one started with a hiccup right away with our flight being delayed out of DC, and we had only 17 minutes to make our connector in Miami, but we made it, and with God's hand, we got into Guatemala City the night of June 25th, as planned. It was then that we got our first glimpse of this hurting city. As we rode in our bus to the mission house, where we'd stay that night, we saw people crowded in the streets, houses on top of houses, and kids running in gang-infested areas, without a parents hand holding theirs. When we got to the mission house, we were met by Jon and the CIA team, who we quickly fell in love with. Christian, a local pastor (who has biceps that could rival Barry Bonds) had one of the most passionate hearts I've ever come into contact with, and we instantly bonded over our musician ties.
The next morning we went to a local church where we first met our campers, albeit briefly. We had to check their bags, to make sure there were no weapons brought, or any other dangerous paraphernalia. We then loaded our bags, instruments and made the 6 hour trek to Mision El Faro, in beautiful coastal Izabal, Guatemala.
We greeted the campers with a line of high fives as they exited the bus, not sure what to expect for the next week. The first night ended with a powerful time of worship and a message, ending with roughly 12 campers coming to Christ. We knew we were in for a powerful week, and we had just arrived...
The next few days were filled with soccer tournaments, practices and exercises, all of course in the 100 degree, 100% humidity jungle weather. No joking, as soon as you'd get out of the shower, you'd start to sweat again. The sticky feeling was coupled with explosive diarrhea, which plagued most of our team at some point or another (sorry, just had to get that in).
Of course, that was all petty, and forgotten, the instant that one of those kids opened up, and shared their stories. My group was made up of ten boys, from red zone areas in Guatemala City, and their two mentors, Nery and Serafin, who lived in the same areas, and met with the boys on a daily basis. The mentors are basically the kids guardian angels, and the way they selflessly give of themselves to the kids is not only inspiring, but convicting as well. Each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sarah and I, along with our two US teammates Jose and Lynette (originally from Puerto Rico) would make casual conversation with the boys, and just love them as they were.
The casual conversations took a serious turn on Day 3 when I posed the following question to the boys at lunch: What are your toughest 3 problems at home, that you want to change when you leave this camp?
Of course, the first few answers were silly, as one kid told me he had too many women in his life, and the next said his homework. Then, my boy Luiz, or as his friends call him "Shrek" told us that his two best friends had just been killed, and that he's afraid he's next.... Wow. How do you answer that? Shrek's answer opened up the rest of the boys to share their problems at home, ranging from drug abuse, to violence, to death threats. The next few days, our conversations got deeper, and our prayer times got longer. We were able to get through the surface level talk and go to a level I never knew could be attained in such a short period of time.
Then the last night of camp, God dropped on the camp, like a Holy Spirit time bomb. Our time of worship went on a little longer this night, as many of the mentors, and camp staff shared their stories and testimonies, opening the kids eyes (and some of our jaws, as they hit the floor). There were stories of grace, redemption, and hope. The campers, along with our team, had watched a documentary called "Reparando" (meaning Repairing) the night before, which had to be one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. This video opened many of our US team's eyes to the state that Guatemala was in, and where these boys were coming from. Out of 100 boys, over 90 came to the front to give their hearts to Christ. 3 of the boys that held back, were from my group. But the night wasn't over yet.
After the worship/message, Jon encouraged us to get back into our groups and share about the decisions made that night, along with the mentors. Serafin asked me and Lynette to go with him and talk with the 3 boys that held back their hearts from stepping into a relationship with Christ. I was a little concerned that we would be forcing them to make a decision they didn't want to make, but I was wrong.
Serafin opened up and just asked why they didn't step up. One boy, Nesh, said he didn't think he could let go of what he was holding onto in his life - drugs, girls, etc. The other two, Maruco and Mariano (brothers, who had me cracking up all week) said they didn't think the Christian life was for them. Then God gave me a word for Maruco. As I looked at him, I spoke to him with broken Spanish, and told him the following:
"Maruco, you are a leader. These kids love you, and whenever you walk into the room, we all light up. Your joy is infectous, and you are always cracking everyone up. But when I look into your eyes, I see a wall of pain..."
At this point, I could feel Holy Spirit fall in that place, as Maruco wept uncontrollably, in the arms of Serafin. I continued...
"You don't have to carry the pain anymore. Jesus wants to take it from you, and replace it with His love and peace. His hand is extended, but you have to grab it first. He can't take your pain, unless you give it to Him."
Mariano, Maruco's younger brother, followed suit with the same thing, and all three boys were in tears, when Serafin asked if he could pray. We stood up, as Serafin lightly asked the boys if they wanted to trade their sorrows for joy, and all three raised their hands, and asked Christ into their hearts...
8 days that changed eternity. For these kids, for me, for Sarah, and for our entire group of 35.
Our last day was supposed to be a "rest and relaxation day", spent in beautiful Antigua. Our group decided they'd rather spend it visiting a deaf school, and an orphanage, where two of our groups of boys came from. We made the right choice.
At the orphanage we were greeted by some of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen, and shared some amazing times with kids who had so much hope in their eyes. I got the chance to film some really cool spots for the God Anthology series with my bro Eliezar, capturing the beauty of the city, along with the heart of NCC. We also quickly decided that we need to take a trip back to the orphanage as a mission trip in and of itself!
As we boarded the plane on the last day, all of us in our Guatemala jerseys and jackets, we knew we were leaving behind a piece of our hearts. There are so many stories that I don't have time to tell, and everyone on the team can tell you amazing circumstances that God moved in. We all had nicknames by the last day, and mine was Tortrix, named after the popular chips in Guatemala. Don't ask me why.. haha. We fell in love with these kids. We fell in love with this country. Each one of us still burns with a passion for the youth, and for their city. God is raising up a new voice, and thanks to people like Christian, Serafin, Nery, all the mentors and staff we met, and Jon Jakubowski, this voice is one that will be heard. Though language was divided, hearts were connected. This world is crying out to us, every day. All we need to do is open our ears to listen..... and then answer.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

LIVE NCC album

Well, I've had a dream for the past 3 years to make a live record with whatever church I ended up being a part of. I mostly thought it would happen while I was set up in Music City - Nashville, but God has a funny way of doing things in HIS timing, and not ours. It was a little over a year ago, when I first got here to Washington DC to join National Community Church, as a worship leader, and then later as a campus pastor. Back in Fall of 2010, we got away to Baltimore for a couple days, and held our annual Planning Retreat, where as a team, we brainstorm, pray, and just seek God for fresh ideas for the upcoming year. That was when it all started...

Mark, Heather, and the rest of the amazing minds that make up our staff had an idea to do a series the Summer of 2011, called The God Anthology, where we approach 9 certain attributes of God, and in our best effort, try to describe who God is, and where that leaves us, as a human race. Out of these 9 attributes, I've joined with the other worship leaders at NCC to write songs that reflect those attributes, based on Scripture, and with additional lyric input from our teaching team. The 9 attributes are Holiness, Love, Faithfulness, Mystery, Beauty, Jealous, Mercy, Wrath, and Sovereignty.

I'm used to writing songs on my own, and not really co-writing outside of Nashville writers, and so this was a whole new beast to tackle for me, and while I wrestled with it at first, I now look back and see that God was really trying to do something new. The lyrical content on these songs is so meaty, saying things we've heard over and over again, but in a new way, with a new passion. And yet the songs are finely crafted to be congregational, and you'll find that you can't get these melodies out of your head. It's been tough at times, because there are some strong opinions collaborating, but in the end, I really think God reigned supreme, and made the songs what HE wanted them to be.

This past weekend, we got to hang with one of my favorite people on the earth, Akil Thompson, who will be producing the album. Akil has worked with artists like Israel Houghton, Jonny Lang, Kelly Clarkson, and the list goes on and on.. Akil's heart for worship and drive for excellence in art will take this project where I believe worship music in the church hasn't gone yet. We're believing for a ground-breaking, God-exalting, lost-redeeming album, that will not only impact our NCC congregation in a new way, but will hopefully find a place in drawing our nation back to the heart of worship..

So get ready, because August 3, 2011, we will be recording a live record here in Washington DC. We're currently looking into several venue options, but praying that the legendary Lincoln Theater is the place! Will YOU be there?!

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

NoiseTrade Widget

Life as a Campus Pastor

Well, I've been at National Community Church here in Washington DC for a little over 6 months now. It's been quite the transition from travelling nonstop at my leisure, to going to an office 4 days a week (even if it is with the coolest group of people I've ever gotten to work with)!

Not even 3 months after I arrived here, Mark Batterson (lead pastor) wanted to talk about the possibility of me taking their sixth campus at Potomac Yard under my wing. I never imagined myself becoming a pastor, but I guess when I think about "why" I do music, it's really to have a voice. That's the whole reason I write and play music - to get a message of hope and the power of Christ's grace and love to the world. As a pastor, you have a wide open door to speak into people's lives, without the music.

Don't get me wrong, I still get to play about 4 or 5 shows a month, and I still get to do a TON of stuff with music, but for some reason God is really giving me a pastor's heart. Now, more than ever, I want to challenge people to live for something greater than themselves. When I hop on the Metro, I find myself talking to random strangers about God's love, and I think becoming a pastor, and following God's will, is giving me a different perspective on this world.

Potomac Yard is hopping, and each Sunday I hear cool stories of how people are stepping into a church environment for the first time in years, and how worship is transforming hearts. This Sunday is my first chance to preach, and I couldn't be more excited. I'll be talking about the NEW covenant, out of Hebrews 10. Christ did away with the Old way of thinking (where people were bound by the law), and established a new covenant of grace.
It's going to be a great Sunday, and I can't wait to see what God does next.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Light will Shine's wordle

Check out the "wordle" i did for my latest album, "Light will Shine". Wordle weights the words according to their use in a song. Pay no attention to why my name appears, haha. It's just on each of the songs as author.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Light Will Shine"

I've always been fascinated with light. Even as a little kid, after getting a telescope for Christmas, I went right out to our back window and fixated the lens on the brightest object I could find in the night sky, which I thought was Venus at the time, but apparently it was the North Star. As a character in the movie Anchorman stated, "I love lamps". I'm mesmerized with electricity and glowing bulbs. Scriptures like Acts 20:8 and Matthew 5:16 are just so cool to me. I think as believers who are called to walk in God's "marvelous light", there should be this wonder and awe when we see the sun, the moon, and the night stars. All of these beautiful displays of God's creation were inspiration for my latest worship EP, "Light will Shine", produced by my good friend and acclaimed Nashville music man, Akil Thompson. We approached the album with a very unique and distinct model - we wanted to be creators. We stretched ourselves, and threw out all the limits that people often place on worship music. We created sounds that I'm positive we'll never be able to replicate again. We swung for the fences. I spent time praying in the spirit and seeking God every morning before the record button was punched. I really believe this created the atmosphere for true creation in the studio.

I think too often we limit ourselves as worship leaders, singers, and writers, and say, "No, that guitar part would never work", or "How could you use a keytar in worship?" For too long, Christian music has taken a backseat to the trends and newest sounds in music worldwide. If we are created in the image of God, then it's my belief that we are created to be CREATORS. No one has an imagination like God. He called the earth out of chaos, and created everything we see that is good in this world. He gave us dominion over this earth, and we all remember the Bible story, how God told Adam to name all the animals (I bet that was a lot of fun). I think it's our destiny to be at the forefront of culture. We're called to be the head, not the tail, to be the leaders, and not the followers. This is how we sonically approached this album.

If I had to pick one song off the CD to tell people to check out, it'd have to be "It is Finished." This is a tune that was written right after a small group meeting I had with a group of about 20 young adults. Our entire night was spent discussing God's grace, and just how much He loved us, to send His only son to die the most excruciating death, for a people that had turned their back on Him. I think grace might be the hardest concept of the New Testament for so many people in this day and age to grasp hold of. We live in a society where we have to give something, to get something. We think, "if I do bad, I get bad, and if I do good, I get good". That's not Christianity, that's Karma. Because of what Christ did on the cross, and God's grace, IT IS FINISHED. We don't need to carry around guilt and condemnation, that Christ already paid for. I love the freedom that we have in Christ, and that is one of the key points of the whole album. We are a people saved by grace, and called to walk in His light.
A preacher once told me "Light will always displace darkness, darkness can never overcome light." That's the phrase that brought about the album title - "Light will Shine."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New record in the MIX

Just got back from Nashville late last week, putting the finishing tracks down for the new worship EP, "Light Will Shine". Been working with Akil Thompson, on the production end. Man, I'm so pumped about this album. First off, Akil is a stinkin' GENIUS! His ideas on blending sounds and coming up with wild effects have been out of sight! I would spend the mornings before going in the studio, in prayer, asking Holy Spirit to reveal new sounds, and take the music to another level. Every day, something other-worldly would happen during recording, and we would just have to sit back and marvel at times. At other times, we'd sit back and laugh. It's like "Really, did we just record that"....
My prayer in this new record is that God would open our eyes, to a new movement, a new sound, and a fresh way to worship Him. He is the God of creation, the God of innovation, the God of new things. We are called to be the front-runners in culture, the head, not the tail. I truly believe with this new album, we are blazing a trail in worship music. Doing something that hasn't been done, and trying sounds that haven't been created before. So when you hear the music, just remember, 2 guys in Nashville, in a bedroom studio, with limited equipment, but an UNlimited God, and hearts to reach the unreached....
That's what this whole thing is all about.

Rock on

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Living it up in DC

So, this past week was my first week ever on staff with a church, as a worship leader. I've joined the incredible team at National Community Church, in our nation's capital. Under the leadership of Mark Batterson, this crew is the bomb! I moved up here March 25th and have had the greatest reception thus far. Easter weekend, we launched NCC's newest location in Columbia Heights at the Historic Gala Theater. It was absolutely awesome, and God is definitely going to do some amazing things there this year! I'm so pumped about being apart of this church, and seeing how God uses this team to bring about His kingdom